There was some controversy last night in Philadelphia, as the Flyers held a Pride Night promotion. As is typical for such events in the NHL, the team’s pregame skate featured rainbow-themed warm-up jerseys and rainbow-patterned stick tape, with the jerseys and sticks slated to be auctioned off for charity. But defenseman Ivan Provorov chose to skip the pregame activities, citing his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs. (He later played 22 minutes in Philly’s 5-2 win over the Ducks.)
Here’s a clearer view of what the jerseys looked like:
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) January 17, 2023
Speaking after the game, Provorov said, “I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”
That appeared to be good enough for Flyers head coach John Tortorella, who said, “With Provy, he’s being true to himself and to his religion. This has to do with his belief and his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy: He’s always true to himself. That’s where we’re at with that.”
In response to the situation, the Flyers issued a statement that was really more of a non-statement, as it didn’t directly address Provorov:
The Philadelphia Flyers organization is committed to inclusivity and is proud to support the LGBTQ+ community. Many of our players are active in their support of local LGBTQ+ organizations, and we were proud to host our annual Pride Night again this year. The Flyers will continue to be strong advocates for inclusivity and the LGBTQ+ community.
The NHL routinely restricts “message” uniforms to pregame activities. It’s not clear whether Provorov would have been a healthy scratch if the uniforms had been worn in the game itself.
This is at least the third time in the past seven months that an athlete has refused to wear team-issued Pride attire. Last June, five Tampa Bay Rays players opted out of the team’s on-field pride uni, citing religious concerns. The following month, Jaelene Daniels of the NWSL’s North Carolina Courage sat out a game rather than wear the team’s Pride jersey, also for religious reasons. (Are there other recent examples I’m overlooking?)
In the Rays’ case, the team had specifically made the Pride uniforms optional. Last night’s Flyers gear was effectively optional as well, since Provorov faced no sanction for skipping the pregame skate.
The Rays situation led me to write a Premium article about whether cultural messaging uniforms should always be optional. Since that article is paywalled, I’ll reproduce the key section here:
[Rays pitcher Jason] Adam, speaking for the group [of non-rainbow-clad players] after the game, said the players’ decision was rooted in their religious beliefs:
“A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision. So it’s a hard decision. Because ultimately we all said what we want is them to know that all are welcome and loved here. But when we put it on our bodies, I think a lot of guys decided that it’s just a lifestyle that maybe — not that they look down on anybody or think differently — it’s just that maybe we don’t want to encourage it if we believe in Jesus, who’s encouraged us to live a lifestyle that would abstain from that behavior, just like (Jesus) encourages me as a heterosexual male to abstain from sex outside of the confines of marriage. It’s no different.”
As you might expect, that explanation has been controversial on several fronts. But I’m not interested in assessing the Pride movement or the actions of the non-participating Tampa Bay players — there are other forums for that. Instead, I want to talk about the team’s decision to make the rainbow uniform elements optional.
How might things unfold if that same opt-out provision were available in other situations involving special uniform promotions? For example, there are several Muslim players in the NBA. Back in 2012 through 2016, when NBA teams routinely wore Christmas-themed uniforms on Dec. 25, imagine if a few of those Muslim players chose not to wear those uniforms and said, “A lot of it comes down to faith, to like a faith-based decision. What we want is them to know that all Christians are welcome and loved here. But when we put it on our bodies, we decided that it’s not something we want to be a part of.”
Even if you take religion out of the equation, it’s not hard to envision other situations where players might opt out of wearing a given uniform element while giving an explanation similar to what the Rays players said. Here are some message-based uniforms we’ve seen in recent years, along with some reasons a player might have for not wearing them:
- Camouflage: “I have some issues with U.S. military policy. Service members and veterans are always welcome in my community and my life, but when it comes to putting it on my body, that’s not something I want to do.”
- Stars/stripes: “I’m a proud, patriotic Venezuelan. I love playing here in America, and I love and support my American teammates and fans, but when it comes to putting the American flag on my body, that’s not something I want to do.”
- BLM: “Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization. Black people are welcome and loved here, but when it comes to putting those initials on my body, that’s not something I want to do.”
- Spanish-language jerseys: “This is America — we speak English here. Wearing Spanish-language jerseys just normalizes the trend of immigrants not assimilating into our culture. Hard-working immigrants who come here legally and learn our culture are welcome and loved here, but when it comes to wearing their language on my body, that’s not something I want to do.”
- Jim Kaat number-retirement patch: “Jim Kaat made an offensive remark on the air last fall and then made another one this season. I respect what he accomplished as a ballplayer, but when it comes to honoring him on my body, that’s not something I want to do.”
- Green for Earth Day: “Earth Day was created by tree-hugger hippies, and now those are the same people pushing the climate change hoax. Don’t get me wrong, I love the great outdoors — in fact, I’m going hunting this weekend — but when it comes to repping Earth Day on my body, that’s not something I want to do.”
- Green ribbons for mental health awareness: “I was always taught that if you’re feeling sad or facing challenges, you should man up and tough it out. Instead, everyone’s getting too soft nowadays. I have nothing against people with mental illness — I wish them well — but when it comes to pushing ‘awareness’ on my body, that’s not something I want to do.”
- New York City first-responder caps for 9/11 remembrance: “The NYPD has a long record of harassing minority communities, and the FDNY has a well-documented history of racism. That’s not to say every cop or firefighter is a bad person — most of them are good public servants, and I respect the brave work that they do — but when it comes to wearing those departmental logos on my body, that’s not something I want to do.”
And so on. Some of those hypothetical scenarios may seem ridiculous, but many people think the Rays’ non-rainbow players were being ridiculous too. That’s what happens when you make uniform messaging optional: You open the door to all sorts of counter-messages.
So that’s what I wrote last summer. I’ll let it speak for me today as well.
Let’s try to keep today’s discussion focused on uniforms, okay? Thanks.